Friday Forum

Article excerpt

Byline: By Andrew Gillespie

Academics have in the past been accused of being confined to their `ivory towers'.

When we did engage with `real world' issues, sometimes the criticism was heard that we were `too academic', meaning that our reports were written in an incomprehensible style and had few clear findings that could help inform policy debates.

Yet the world has changed, and is continuing to change. Increasingly, academics are being called upon to undertake research which is designed to underpin what is termed in the jargon `evidence-based policy.'

What that means is policy informed by solid and systematic research on a particular issue, rather than merely by political instinct or an over-reliance on an often fallible `common sense'.

Many academics ( whether from the natural and medical sciences, from engineering, or from the social sciences ( are tackling complex and multi-faceted problems in the real world.

They are often to be found working in inter-disciplinary teams which combine the expertise of different subject specialisms.

This new emphasis on inter-disciplinary research means universities have to change. The University of Newcastle, for example, has recently restructured itself so as to maximise the opportunities for inter-disciplinary research collaboration.

As part of this restructuring, we have established a number of `flagship' research institutes. I am the director of one of these, the Institute for Policy and Practice (IPP), whose launch event took place last week.

The IPP means that the university's social science research will be more prominent ( regionally, nationally and internationally.

Its contributions to improving policy and practice will build upon existing research strengths. Examples of areas where we have been able to make such contributions include:

* Debates on the social and ethical aspects of the life sciences, such as recent developments in therapeutic cloning;

* The development of more sustainable rural environments and policies shaping the future of rural areas;

* Priority-setting in health-care systems. …

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